Good. Bad. Indifferent. Loving. Critical. Close. Distant.

What comes to mind when you hear the word spouse?

Think about it: every year on birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays, we find ourselves sending out cards with cookie cut lyrics and rhythmic poetry to communicate to our spouses what that word means to us. Only one thing will be required of us — a signature.  If our relationships are distant or detached, there will be nothing more. No note, no heartfelt emotions, just a signature.

So what, you might ask? That’s the best way to deal with a spouse you might have a sub-par relationship with, isn’t it? Maybe, but if you’re tired of the mediocre life you’re living with your spouse, you have a chance to do something different — something that might bring healing to the dry and empty places in your own soul. Get naked.

You heard it. Get naked. That means if you want to change the relationship dance with your spouse, you have to be willing to do something different. That starts with getting real with your mate — even if it hurts. Even if you feel stripped naked.

What does that look like? How can we actually get naked? Here are a few ways:

Be willing to confront

Nobody likes conflict, especially men, but conflict doesn’t have to be all bad if you learn to see it through a different lens — the lens of opportunity. Conflict can serve as a window into your spouse’s soul and a chance to see and understand their fears, hurt, and frustrations. Let’s face it: none of us are perfect, and if we go into conflict with the idea that maybe we can listen and learn something from our mate, it will change the way we relate.

Be willing to be vulnerable

When we’ve been hurt, it’s easy to check out, build walls, and close up shop. That’s the worst thing we can do to solve relationship problems. Try talking in the first person using “I” statements when communicating your feelings: “I felt upset and devalued the other day,” or “I’m feeling like I’m not a priority to you.” Those statements go a lot farther than “You always treat me badly,” and “You never take me out.”

Be willing to forgive

Forgiveness can be hard, especially if we’ve been wounded over and over. But forgiveness is a means of release for the one holding the debt — you! Do it for your own benefit. Start by making a decision to forgive, and then practice the virtues of empathy, love, sympathy, and compassion towards your spouse.

Be willing to love in spite of your hurt

It’s easy to love people when they’re treating us great — no challenge there — but can you love someone when they’re grumpy, sour, or just plain annoying? You can if you chose to. Try a gentle tone, a kind word, or a gracious act of service. You’ll like yourself a whole lot better too.

Be willing to draw necessary boundaries

No one should be screamed at, belittled, or abused in any other way. Boundaries are necessary, especially if your mate does any of the above. Dr. John Townsend has written a great book called Boundaries in Marriage if you need a little help.

Be willing to admit your wrongs

Man up and be willing to say these nine little words that will change your relationship dance: I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me? Period. No “but this is why I did this,” or “but you did this so I did that.” Stick with the script and see what happens.

Relationships aren’t always easy, but everything that’s worth anything comes with a price. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired in your relationship, the only way things will change is if you do something different. If you wait for the other person to move first because you think that’s an indication of their love and commitment, don’t. They may not know what to do or how to start. Be the bigger person.

If your relationship is in serious trouble, seek help with a professional counselor. Then, the next time you go to buy a card for your mate, you may actually mean what it says inside.

Back at you: What challenges have you faced in your relationship that have kept you stuck, and what fears have held you back from getting naked?

No matter how well you communicate, issues are still sure to arise here and there: 7 Secrets for a Better Relationship

Featured photo credit: Bride and groom by the sea on their wedding day via Shutterstock

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